I’m in Toronto for a week, enjoying the mild winter weather (relative to Winnipeg, I mean), but more importantly, making the acquaintance of our newest granddaughter and lending what assistance I can to the young family. While here, and travelling, I’ve been reading Scott Bader-Saye’s Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear (Brazos, 2007). This book is the second in the “Take and Read” series I’m participating in, though I’ll have to miss the discussion of it, which happens to fall this evening.
No doubt about it, we live in a culture of fear. It’s a very relevant topic. It’s especially relevant to the arrival of the beautiful, dark-haired infant in this home. Bader-Saye says, “We had not yet begun to know fear until we had our first child.” There’s the much advice and the many claims of the “experts,” not to mention well-wishing relatives and friends, an array of warnings about what can happen to children — eating, sleeping, playing — and a marketplace that has made child safety “a lucrative industry in part because legitimate fears are artifically heightened and manipulated.” (And grandparents, who are supposed to be wise, are not immune to fear either; they’ve lived plenty long enough to know that even in the best of situations, bad stuff occasionally happens.)
Parenting is only one of the arenas of fear that Bader-Saye addresses. He notes that we are a more fearful culture today despite the fact that “the dangers are not objectively greater than in the past.” Fear is a “strong motivator,” he says, used to advantage by advertisers, the media, politicians,even the church. Fear is used for profit, to fill pews, to consolidate power. In each case, he says, “we are encouraged to fear the wrong things or to fear the right things in the wrong way.”
Bayer-Saye’s book provides a fine analysis of fear and how to acknowledge it while not being overcome by it. Fear itself is not necessarily wrong, he writes, but “disordered” or excessive fear is. Disordered fear tempts us to vices like cowardice and violence. It also inhibits virtuous actions such as hospitality, peacemaking, and generosity. (The last three chapters of the book are devoted to these courageous acts.) Fear tempts us to make safety/security our chief goal; to make it our idol.
Correctly understood, he says, fear is also a gift, for it is not unrelated to love. It exists “in the nexus of love and limitation.” How great our children’s — and their grandparents’ — love for this new child of theirs, but drifting along comes the shadow of fear. In its proper place, this will lead us all to care for her as well as we can. Yet all we do is done will be done with an awareness of our limitations and those of life itself, for “every new love contains,” as Augustine said, “the seeds of fresh sorrows.” (I think of Mary, at this Advent season, “pondering” all the strange things connected with her first child’s birth.) On first thought, we might think it better not to even risk such planting, but we do, because to risk and to love is so much better than fear. So much better! I look at our darling infant granddaughter sleeping in her carrier close to me and affirm this, in love and faith.
I’ve been reading about the various ways people organize their worlds in a book by Franciscan, Richard Rohr. He suggests that people fall into one of three broad categories. Whether they realize it or not, people in any culture have one of three sins at the core of their personality — anger, shame or fear. Much of what they do in life comes from subconsciously expressing, repressing or suppressing this sin. I’m guessing that the author of this book understands fear very well because he has spent time becoming aware of, responding to, accepting grace for, experiencing transformation of his core sin of fear.
I am not familiar with Richard Rohr or his book, but the idea that a sin is at the core of my personality is troubling, to say the least. And while I neither agree nor disagree that anger, shame or fear are at the core of an individuals personality, I disagree that any of these should be considered sins.
Sins are “reprehensible or regrettable” actions, and “especially willful or deliberate violations of religious or moral” principles.
Emotions are “an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness”. Emotions are not mental processes of perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning (cognitive), or the act of willing, choosing, or resolving (volitional).
I would argue that any emotions experienced arise spontaneously, and are neutral, not inherently good, bad, right or wrong.
Thanks, Mary Anne and C., for your comments.
@ C: Since I’m not familiar with the particular reference to Rohr either I can’t explain or defend his use of the language of “sin” for the three categories of which he speaks. More specifically to fear, however, in reference to Bayer-Saye’s book– Fear is an emotion, but he insists that emotions are not neutral, that “our passions can be morally praise- or blameworthy.” He goes on to talk about how the Christian tradition of character formation involves the “proper ordering” of our passions such as fear. It’s not the raw emotion of fear, which may arise, as you note, spontaneously, and is not evil that he addresses as much as “disordered fear,” which has then, a moral dimension. I think this is a helpful distinction, at least it works for me.
What a fantastic quote from Augustine! Thanks for the reminder that love is worth the risk.
How wonderful! I’ve always believed it better to risk and love than to give into fear. And so often, the things we are most afraid of are blown out of proportion by our own imaginings or twisted by our own misinterpretations.
Love is worth the risk, and I need to be reminded of that on a regular basis too. Thanks Ryan, and Tracey. @ Tracey: I agree, we can greatly over-assess the dangers, and sometimes too, we are affected by the fears of others. One of the things I appreciate in this book is a list of diagnostic questions that a person or community could ask in a situation of fear. For e.g., whether it’s actually present or fast-approaching, whether it’s really powerful and able to cause harm or generally small and harmless, whether what I’m afraid of losing is something to truly be concerned about, whether it’s keeping me from doing the things I know I should do and so on. By the way, you’re someone who models a positive risking. Best to you!
What a beautiful application of love and risk to your new granddaughter. I was inspired by this blog, constantly fighting the modern fears of things such as identity theft, risky situations,…and, I do feel for the younger generation who face having to be “perfect”, the right crib, the right car seat, etc. And for me, when that fear gets disordered, there is either an exaggerated worry or attempt to prevent what is out of my control. “Do not worry about anything, but pray about everything, with thanksgiving…” – my verse for the day/week/year/life.
Thanks again for sharing some of your inner thoughts that resonate with me.
Thanks for this post. For my mental health, I should probably add: “Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear” to my reading list. I’m wondering how the presenter substantiated the sentence: “the dangers are not objectively greater than in the past.”
I have a granddaughter and resonate with the comments you make about your baby granddaughter.
But back when I was in high school about as wild as we could get was smoking a joint when we were on garbage pickup detail. Now we have kids selling crystal meth and teenage girls up on murder charges. There are kids out there in gangs with real guns working for puppet masters called Hells Angels.
It seems to me based on what I know to be objectively true that the streets are meaner now then ‘back in the day.’
I appreciate these comments, Eunice and Larry. @ Eunice: that verse has been foundational for me too, all the disciplines/habits/strategy contained in that one text! @ Larry: Re. substantiating the statement about fear not being objectively greater. There are various arguments throughout the book (which I want to say more about in a subsequent post) that might respond to that; at the moment I’m not putting my fingers on anything firmly statistical. I certainly have heard that claim in terms of crime rates and so on, however. For e.g., just this morning I picked up the Toronto Star to read on my flight home from Toronto and there was an article on cops in Toronto being not that enthused about new mayor Rob Ford’s vow to hire 100 more police officers, not enthused for a variety of reasons but one being that since 2005 crime has actually fallen by about 30 percent across Toronto. During a recent civic election here in Winnipeg, crime was one of the issues as well, always cast in a negative and fear-raising way, useful for getting votes, but I recall reading the same, that statistically, crime rates are actually down here as well. And, if I’m not mistaken, Canada-wide.
Bayer-Saye quotes a study that argues that if you grow up in a home where there is more than 3 hours of television per day, “for all practical purposes you live in a meaner world.”
— Anecdotally, I suppose it depends on our experiences and the “objective truths” that we encounter. I was thinking of one comparison in my own life. I was able to bring three children to adulthood, the three I gave birth to. They survived, and I didn’t die in the process either. In my great-grandmother’s day, giving birth was a sobering (and frequent) facing of one’s mortality, and in her particular case, she gave birth 11 times, but like me, saw 3 of them reach adulthood. But 3 out of 11. The other eight died of various childhood diseases and so on. In this area, life has been so much safer for me and ours. — But you raise a good question, how does one in fact measure something like this? And perhaps it’s only true in our part of the world?
In my earlier post I was thinking how to raise a young or mid-aged teen. From my perspective one should not live in fear but be aware+wise (an extreme would be living in denial – assuming divine protection). Since posting that little biographic detail about my high school life I’ve done a bit of reflecting. I was raised in Vancouver and about five years ago spent several years supervising offenders living in the exact area where, 35 years ago I once lived. The streets pretty much coorrespond in my earlier post – drive by shootings, home invasations, gangs and all that.
From time to time due to my work I receive police crime bulletins. This morning we received the bulletin dealing with crime on or around sky-trains. Mind boggling scary and random stuff.
I hope our granddaughters never have to work in a convenience store. I routinely see the pictures/descriptions of robberies in those late night businesses. Isolated vulnerable employees subjected to the actions of viscious people.
Sorry it’s been a long day.
Blessings (I will try to read the book) 🙂
I hope that little biographic detail doesn’t get you into any belated trouble, Larry! 🙂 And thanks for the further comment. On my own further reflection, I think I may have responded too blithely to the observations you’re making. Whatever the proofs of “not objectively greater” might be, you’re privy to a significantly difficult picture of things. Fear-rousing not imagined but real. Thanks!